Monday, May 23, 2011

Compensated Maintenance

In an upscale neighborhood like mine, with Spring lawn-service contractors make their appearance right on schedule: trucks, vans, trailers, mowers, men, smell, and noise. And if the size of the estates did not already proclaim it, we can now be doubly certain where real wealth resides. Real wealth is always signaled by the presence of compensated maintenance. Now, of course, in most such neighborhoods, if they are large enough—and the Grosse Pointes in Michigan are several large communities—there are also plenty of areas where the homes and yards are modest (including mine). Therefore it is easy to see, on wide-ranging walks, the difference between voluntary, home-owner maintenance and the compensated kind. I hasten to say that in this area the over-whelming impression is order, indeed delight. Most yards are splendidly maintained and the gardens range from nice to impressive. People expend a lot of care and time. But the result aren’t uniform. I can tell where the elderly and lonely live. Over the years I’ve observed wonderful homes gradually go down hill as the once busy lady of the house—who used to be out visibly gardening, trimming, planting—has grown old and has withdrawn, and then the property itself gradually begins to mirror back her own decline. There are also, here and there, genuinely neglectful people who do the barest minimum to escape a visit from the township governments. Patches of indifference deface a block, here and there—and frequently immediate neighbors, almost by compensation one imagines, have yards and garden that are aggressively neat and splendid almost as if to fend off the blight next door.

Lawn-services, one imagines, can hardly wait for grass to grow in spring, leaves to fall in autumn, and snow to descent in winter. This is their livelihood, and the motivation is positive. In all other cases at least some part of the maintenance is wearisome, and the man or woman sighs deeply before finally venturing out to start that mower. Again. Too soon. At the same time those who deliver compensated maintenance are striving for efficiency. Therefore they use fossil fuels and chemicals of the most powerful kinds. At a time when dandelions are just past their peak—but show their colors even on the best of lawns, never a one to be seen on those estates that merit compensated maintenance. I passed yesterday one of these mansions where, on a tiny strip of bare ground six dandelion bunches lay utterly, and I mean drastically reduced to chemical death by some chemical more powerful than any I could possibly purchase at Meldrum’s or Allemon’s. Aggressive fertilizers and deadly-terminal poisons do their rapid work—and machines, machines everywhere, early spring to aerate the ground, then to mow, cut, blow. Noise. These islands of fumes and noise move at roughly twenty-minute intervals from place to place. And, surprise, the mostly Hispanic work-forces who dispense the chemicals and work the machines are the only humans I ever actually see anywhere on or even near most of these estates. Their inhabitants are invisible.

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